» Monday, March 1, 2004

Clare Short

Asked if any consideration was being given to removing Privy Counsellor status from Clare Short, the PMOS said that the latest position on this matter had been set out in the Cabinet Secretary’s letter to Ms Short, which she had publicised yesterday. He had nothing further to add other than the fact that the letter had been initiated by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull, himself, and that the Prime Minister had been aware of it and had approved of it being sent. Asked if Privy Counsellorship was a privilege which could be removed if required, the PMOS referred journalists to the Cabinet Office for a more detailed exposition about the position of Privy Counsellors. Asked if membership of the Privy Council was a matter for the Prime Minister, the PMOS said that he wasn’t an expert on the processes of the Privy Council. He repeated that the position had been set out in the Cabinet Secretary’s letter. Additional questions should be addressed to the Cabinet Office.

Asked if he was indicating that this was the end of the matter, the PMOS said that Ms Short had chosen to publish Sir Andrew Turnbull’s letter yesterday. The Cabinet Secretary’s words spoke for themselves. Put to him that the matter could not be laid to rest until it was known if it was up to Downing Street, the Cabinet Office or Buckingham Palace to make the final decision as to whether to remove Clare Short’s Privy Counsellorship, the PMOS said that the position remained as set out in the Cabinet Secretary’s letter. The question was hypothetical and it would therefore not be helpful to engage in a discussion about it at this time. He underlined that decisions would not be taken as a result of what people said in television interviews. Sir Andrew Turnbull had sent his letter to Ms Short. That was the current position. Asked if the position was likely to change today, the PMOS said not as far as he was aware.

Put to him repeatedly that things had moved on since the letter because she had given interviews despite being warned by the Cabinet Secretary not to do so, the PMOS said that he had set out the position as it was at the moment. He had nothing further to add. Asked if the letter had been written on the understanding that it would remain confidential, the PMOS said yes. Questioned as to whether Sir Andrew Turnbull was intending to write again to Ms Short, the PMOS said that that was entirely a matter for the Cabinet Secretary. Put to him that Ms Short had ‘cocked a snook’ at the authority of Sir Andrew and that something should be done about it, the PMOS said that the authority of the Cabinet Secretary rested upon the fact that he acted in accordance with proper procedure. That was precisely what Sir Andrew had done – and with the full approval of the Prime Minister. In answer to further questions about the letter, the PMOS said that one of Sir Andrew’s duties was to inform and remind Ministers – and ex-Ministers – of the Ministerial Code. That was exactly what he had done. Asked if the Cabinet Secretary had any other powers other than to write and remind ex-Ministers of their obligations under the Ministerial Code, the PMOS said that he had set out the position. He had no intention of getting drawn into a speculative discussion about other matters. Put to him that Ms Short had responded, in terms, to the letter and that the ball was now in Downing Street and the Cabinet Secretary’s court, the PMOS said it was a fact of life that Ms Short had chosen to publicise the Cabinet Secretary’s letter. More broadly, it was important for people to recognise that the argument had not changed between this time last week and today. Those who had opposed the war in Iraq were still opposed to it. What had changed, however, was the reality on the ground where slowly, bit by bit, the foundation stones were being put in place to rebuild Iraq. That was what mattered, not some of the headlines over the past few days. The reality was that Iraq, for the first time in over three decades, was getting a democracy. That might not be of interest to some people here. However, in the longer term, that was what was far more important. Put to him that the Prime Minister had been moved to say last week that the safety of British intelligence officers had been put at risk and that the situation could not be allowed to continue – and yet it had, through Ms Short’s publication of a confidential letter from the Cabinet Secretary yesterday, the PMOS said that we would not allow the pace to be set by other people. Rather, we would proceed in a way that was more appropriate for the long term. Asked if he was indicating that Downing Street was not ruling out the possibility of Ms Short’s Privy Counsellor status being removed, the PMOS said that he wasn’t indicating anything. The position remained as had been set out.

Asked if the Prime Minister or any Downing Street official had spoken to Clare Short in the last twenty-four hours, the PMOS said not as far as he was aware. Asked if the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary had met today to discuss what the next steps should be in the light of the weekend’s events, the PMOS said that it wasn’t our policy to brief on private meetings. That said, journalists could safely assume that that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary remained in regular contact, as you would expect.

Asked the Prime Minister’s reaction to Ms Short’s allegation that the Attorney General had been leant upon, the PMOS said that the Attorney General had given his advice in private, as successive Attorney Generals in previous Administrations had done, because of the need to be able to do so as frankly and freely as possible. That was why the convention existed. Put to him that the convention had already been broken because an extract of the Attorney General’s advice had already been published, the PMOS pointed out that a summary of the Attorney General’s conclusions had been published, not an extract. Pressed as to whether the Attorney General had been leant upon to change his mind, as Ms Short had suggested, the PMOS said that Ms Short was of course free to make whatever allegations she liked. In the same way, we were free to state the position as it was. Questioned as to whether the Attorney General had changed his advice, the PMOS said that the Attorney General had given his advice, the conclusions of which had been reported. Asked if the Butler Inquiry’s remit should be extended to include an examination of the Attorney General’s advice, the PMOS said that what the Butler Inquiry investigated was a matter for them, not for him.

Asked for clarification regarding the documents which Ms Short might have seen following an apparent backtrack in her Dimbleby interview yesterday, the PMOS said that he was not Ms Short’s spokesman. However, while he recognised the characterisation of her interview yesterday, he would not be drawn into a commentary about what she might or might not have seen.

Asked if Downing Street was concerned that co-operation between the British security services and their international counterparts would decline if Privy Counsellors were unable to control themselves and no action was taken against them, the PMOS said that the world-wide reputation of our security services was well known and highly respected. We had every confidence that that would continue to be the case. The normal conventions between Ministers and the security services would continue.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news


  1. Ditch Short.

    1) If she had any integrity, she’d have said something at the time.

    2) What’s the point of having levels of confidentiality and secrecy if ex-ministers can break the terms under which they are given access to information, as they see fit, or for personal vendettas?

    Comment by pid — 1 Mar 2004 on 6:13 pm | Link
  2. It looks like the full text of the letter hasn’t made it into the public domain — the Guardian and BBC only seem to have extracts, even though Dimbleby was handed a copy of live TV yesterday. Cf.
    <a href="http://politics.guardian.co.uk/whitehall/story/0,9061,1159275,00.html">http://politics.guardian.co.uk/whitehall/story/0,9061,1159275,00.html</a&gt;

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 1 Mar 2004 on 6:16 pm | Link
  3. Ms. Short’s breach of Privy Council confidence is a minuscule offence in comparison to what cabinet ministers of both parties have been doing for forty years. The oath (or affirmation) pledges the Privy Counsellor to uphold all the sovereign rights of the Crown against all foreign powers whatsoever.

    The slow motion coup d’etat by successive British governments on behalf of the EU is in complete contradiction to this undertaking. Most MPs with whom I have spoken (including Lord Tebbit) admit that they were taken for a ride on this one and did not know what they were voting for at the time.

    In retirement, the late Lord Denning was asked to give his opinion with regard to the respective oaths or affirmations made by Privy Counsellors who became EU Commissioners. As I recall, he said "I cannot reconcile the difference. They must decide which sovereign they will serve".

    This has been a slow but deadly poison, working through the national polity from the head down. People who have themselves violated their most solemn commitment are in no position to point the finger at Ms. Short’s relatively minor and single fall from grace in this matter.

    Comment by Edward SPalton — 1 Mar 2004 on 6:20 pm | Link
  4. Clare obviously has a low opinion of everybody and everything except herself. She is quite willing to stay in a government whose actions she apparently disagrees with, and equally willing to make a solemn oath, take advantage of its benefits, and then break it.

    It says something about politics and the press/media that someone so arrogant and dishonourable is taken so seriously. It would be interesting to ask the PM why he gave her a job in the first place. Did he think she was suitable material? If so, what does this say about his judgement? Or, if he merely gave her a job to satisfy certain elements of his party, what does this say about his respect for the people, that they should get good government?

    Comment by Neil Moore-Smith — 1 Mar 2004 on 7:03 pm | Link
  5. Motive:

    why would CS want TB removed?

    A return to the cabinet.

    Remove her Privy Counsellor status and she’ll never get it back. Wont have no reason to remove TB apart from spite, and Labour MP’s will backlash against her if she opens her mouth again for damaging the party’s electoral fortunes in forthcoming elections in May.

    If i was in TB’s shoes I’d implicitly encourage those who could to get it removed. Her career is over under TB but it her political career will not progress at all by removing her status.


    Comment by Pani Voskou — 1 Mar 2004 on 7:32 pm | Link
  6. Clare Short’s motives certainly seem questionable – why wait until now? Why not say something at the time?

    She is obviously on a vendetta against TB – presumably on behalf on Gordon – who has yet again remained strangely silent….

    Having said that the way No10 and the Blair loyalists within the cabinet have responded I suspect that there is a great deal of truth in what she has said.

    As on a number of occasions recently no-one in this story comes out with any credit.

    Comment by Stuart — 1 Mar 2004 on 8:14 pm | Link
  7. GW Bush, in his Mar 17 2003 address to the nation, declared that (amongst other reasons) Saddam Hussein must be brought down because he bugged representatives of the UN: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030317-7.html.

    Is this why there’s been so much shouting about Clare Short? We now face invasion by the US?

    Comment by Chris Powell — 1 Mar 2004 on 8:17 pm | Link
  8. I dislike Tony Blair and think it was wrong to go to war against Iraq on the basis claimed although the end result was probably for the best. I respect Robin Cook and hope he returns to a major government post in due course. I think Clare Short is a dangerous loose cannon who has failed to recognise the seriousness of her responsibilities. I would not be surprised to find we bugged Kofi Annan but the real world means that major democracies have to operate in pragmatic and sometimes unpalatable ways that are not compatible with a sixth form moralistic view of the theoretically desirable approach to world politics. Clare Short is out of her league. Her Privy Council membership should be rescinded immediately and she should grow up : this is real world politics and not the trivia of Labour party machinations in the West Midlands during the Thatcher era. Let’s hear reasoned arguments from the key players such as Cook not the silly witterings of someone who should never have been allowed to reach those dizzy heights.

    Comment by DaveFromKent — 1 Mar 2004 on 8:40 pm | Link
  9. So nice to read that everyone is standing up for true, transparent democracy here in the UK, and not worrying about empty little things like protocol and status.

    Comment by Bill G — 1 Mar 2004 on 10:06 pm | Link
  10. You might find the ‘Saddam Bugged UN’ Bush comment link above won’t work – that’s because there’s a full stop at the end of it. Try this:

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030317-7.html">http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030317-7.html</a&gt;

    Comment by Robert — 1 Mar 2004 on 11:09 pm | Link
  11. 1) This situation arose because of the Attorney General’s embarrassingly transparent backdown in the Catherine Gun case. She should have been prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act but the Government did not want any loud public demands for the full text of the AGs legal advice to be published. In this they failed – once again, an appalling lack of foresight by the government for not anticipating this when Mrs. Gun was first arrested.

    2) The fact that the Government had just set a hugely dangerous precedent in allowing Mrs. Gun to walk free allowed Clare Short the perfect opportunity to stick the boot into Saint Tony.

    3) The fact that no-one has actually denied ANY of her allegations is striking enough in itself but

    4) even more striking is the fact that the government is so terrified of Ms. Short making a further issue of the AGs advise that they seem to be powerless to silence her

    5) This means that now we have a situation where one way or another the government must act. Firstly, because of the dangerously nebulous grey area in which the Official Secrets Act now seems to find itself. And secondly, to restore (or should that be establish?!?!) confidence in the whole of our political apparatus right now.

    6) A huge overhaul of this incredibly anachronistic system of government, right down to nuts and bolts, now seems more essential than ever.

    7) In short (no pun intended…), it is high time that Tony Blair swallowed his pride, waved a sad goodbye to immortality in the history books and did the honourable thing for the good of the country he professes to serve so well. It’s just a pity he never served his country under fire – maybe then he would not have been so keen to involve our Services in so many armed conflicts.

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 1 Mar 2004 on 11:11 pm | Link
  12. This Govt. makes Tory sleeze look positively angelic.

    Oh what a tangled web …

    Who can ever take them seriously again? It’s all quite, quite ridiculous.

    Comment by Jim q — 2 Mar 2004 on 12:20 am | Link
  13. Short seemed to be an effective International Development Secretary and quite a breath of fresh air. It was a brave appointment that has rebounded on TB. Cynics may say it placated the left wing of the Labour Party – they may be right or wrong and we will probably never know.

    However she should have resigned with Cook if she didn’t like the Iraq business and this error has damaged her credibility except as a source for journalists and even they will grow tired of her eventually.

    I suspect much of her clear venom these days comes from feeling persuaded by TB into staying but it was her decision. The latest furore derives from the claim to have seen transcripts of conversations with Kofi Annan.


    1) Were these real transcripts or had someone made them up?

    2) Were these from bugging or surveillance operations?

    3) Were these from our services or someone elses?

    We can think of many other conspiratorial questions but if she could not answer at least these three questions she should have kept her mouth shut. Now she is clearly not fit to be a PC, possibly even an MP.

    If and when Gordon Brown does succeed the throne, she would be the last person to have in any cabinet. Trust Clare Short is an oxymoron.

    Comment by jl — 2 Mar 2004 on 5:39 am | Link
  14. What Clare Short fails to realise – or fails to deem important – are the wider implications when letting slip the workings of our security services. Great Britain is a member of the global surveillance network, ECHELON, along with the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. We are bound together under the secret UKUSA 1948 agreement and have worked in close collaboration on intelligence matters since. Self righteous frauds like Clare Short serve to undermine Great Britain and give us the reputation as a ‘leaky partner’ and that has potentially disastrous consequences for the future. Yes it was irresponsible and for her to smugly suggest otherwise is an indication of how far her vendetta against Blair has clouded her judgement.

    Comment by Tony — 2 Mar 2004 on 8:54 am | Link
  15. Further to Tony’s comments above:

    Granted, Clare Short is a loose cannon who seems to have no concept of her responsibilities, and in any stable Government there is no question she would have long gone. The whole point is, it just shows how desperate this Government has become that they now seem powerless to act with regard to Clare Short, and only time will tell if the Official Secrets Act has been likewise hamstrung.

    However, looking at this from another angle; it is a good thing for the democratic process that people like Catherine Gun and Clare Short exist (for very different reasons!) – I guess this is all part of the whole ying-yang balancing act of life. What I mean is, it seems patently obvious that this Government (and therefore by extension Tony Blair) is guilty of a number of unforgivable crimes, and the only reason they have not yet been indicted of these crimes (at least successfully) is because so far they have managed quite successfully to pigeon-hole every accusation and have tame enquiries and committees loudly profess their innocence from every rooftop. Crimes ranging from war crimes against the people of Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Kosovo & now Iraq; lying to Parliament and the British people; abuse of power; and so on.

    If not for people like Catherine Gun, the continuing abuses of Government power would (and do) continue – don’t forget, she is only one out of who knows how many Government employees who had the courage to sacrifice her job and for all she knew the next 5 years of her life in order to expose what she did. The fact that this request for help from the NSA may well be routine is beside the point; if it was routine, why didn’t the Government just shrug it off?

    Catherine Gun admitted to breaking the Official Secrets Act and therefore as such should be prosecuted. However, it seems more pertinent to point out that she would indeed have been prosecuted were it not for the duplicity of this Government. In that respect, this Government created the whole mess by blindly following George Bush into an illegal war of aggression, and therefore one has no sympathy with a single one of them. It is up to the Government to sort out the mess, and quickly. However, we know this isn’t going to happen, for a couple of reasons;

    1) No-one in Government seems to know quite what to do with Clare Short. It seems they can’t charge her with anything for fear of her insisting that the AGs advice be made public. (Indeed, how many Ministers actually sign the Official Secrets Act? Even the PM didn’t seem to know)

    2) The labour party is now trying to close ranks to disown and discredit Clare Short. This is unfortunately counter-productive because some of the diversionary tactics are so transparent as to be worthless, and further protests by different Government officials serve only to perpetuate the lack of trust. For example, David Blunkett saying he had never seen any transcripts of Kofi Annans conversations. Of course not – he is the HOME secretary, not the Foreign secretary. Of course, how many tabloid readers would know this? A sad fact to reflect on! It would be better for the party as a whole to open up, not close ranks – the truth will out in the end and the only outcome from further prevarication will be further dissatisfaction and loss of trust.

    So I suppose a quick summing up would suggest that it is good to have loose cannons who are willing to risk imprisonment to right perceived wrongs, and a sad inditement of this Government that the political climate exists where accusations and recriminations can exist unchallenged – probably because they are true…

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 2 Mar 2004 on 9:46 am | Link
  16. About time we had the Act re-drafted for a ‘modern’ political system. The present version can lead to silly situations where an activity covered by the Act, observed by someone who has not signed the Act, is denied by the person conducting the activity, in order not to breach their obligations under the Act.

    "I saw you do it"
    "Oh no you didn’t"
    "Oh yes I did"
    "Oh no you didn’t"
    "Oh yes I did"

    Government sponsored pantomime

    Comment by Roger Huffadine — 2 Mar 2004 on 10:21 am | Link
  17. I look at it this way: If the government of a ‘free and democratic country’ (i.e. the power-crazed few) is allowed to keep its secrets, then I’m damned sure I’m going to keep mine (dull and boring as they are). What’s all this nonsense about having nothing to hide? It’s more a question of ‘Do you want to be OWNED by the state?’ All this anti-terrorism mass psychology makes the Burning of the Reichstag look like a jolly bonfire. Wake up citizens, before there is no one left to speak up for you! These people in Downing St. are clearly dangerous – who exactly are the terrorists? Who are the ones who should be arrested (literally meaning STOPPED)?

    Talking of psychology, anyone noticed that when the going gets tough, TB likes to pull out the term "Conspiracy Theorists" in a see-through attempt at reverse psychology? As if to say, just dismiss all this kind of stuff, regardless of the details and pointers and connections it may contain. Really, one doesn’t have to dig very deep at all before one’s instincts of suspicion are aroused. (The Dutroux case in Belgium, the UFO cover-up, and the Chemtrails phenomenon are just 3 examples – not necessarily unconnected with each other). But mysteries and their resolution are never a question of belief, but always a matter of information. *Some* information is by far more difficult to come by than other nuggets. Its discovery may be elusive, but its existence assures eventual uncovering with enough intelligent effort. Insert your jigsaw puzzle analogy here. For example, Freemasonry is not a timid, ineffectual, doddering old-fools club. It is one of the prime engines of the historical Establishment which exerts its influence on WHOEVER ends up in Government. To assume that Government is the top-level of control is just plain naive. And there is PLENTY of evidence to show this is simply not the case.

    Please don’t quote September 11th or ("9-11") as justification for Government promotion of Joe Public’s paranoia and ‘patriotism’. IF you look into the details, using your computer, the internet, and a finely-tuned BS detector, you will find that it was essentially planned and allowed to happen to kick-start this new "war". Intelligence failed then, and no heads rolled, but intelligence NOW says we must become owned by the State in order to protect ourselves. This is pure nonsense, and this government relies on the public to do what they’ve always done: to do as they’re told simply because THEY have the power and WE don’t. There are connections to be made between all these global events, the main one being that fear and anxiety in the masses is the key to control and exploitation. They don’t want you to look too far into their procedures and plans because it gets too close to their real aims. Become a Conspiracy Realist, and refuse to subscribe to their negative view of the world, whoever they are.

    Clare Short has crossed a line that appears to make the controllers wobble. But it is a mere gnat on the face of the Establishment which will roll on regardless. If she only understood what she was truly up against, she would probably shrink from the prospect, like so many others. And those who don’t, disappear. Fact.

    I’m thinking of starting a "No More BS" party. The day a political leader answers a straight question with a straight answer is the day the world will change for the better. We’re going round in circles for no good reason. We have to transcend this political system of suspicion (rife with egos, careers and secret societies), rules and regulations, and THINK FOR OURSELVES! Now there’s a radical idea – how difficult can it be, really?

    Comment by HH — 2 Mar 2004 on 10:52 am | Link
  18. Plainly all of the "Clare Short was a naughty person" stuff is being whipped up in order to try and cover the original problem – UK security agencies being involved in the bugging of UN offices. Notice how this is given little coverage in the press reports. Hm.

    Comment by HC — 2 Mar 2004 on 10:57 am | Link
  19. One does wonder if Clare Short were to be spoken of in the terms as some did above this comment, were she a man. It’s such a typicalpiece of spin to present a woman doing something damging to your party/government as hysterical, or emotional or a loose cannon.

    I personally can only applaud her in bringing this out and I cannot take Tony Blair’s whinging about the security of Britain seriously.

    Comment by Martin Wisse — 2 Mar 2004 on 11:05 am | Link
  20. I do not agree that CS motives or actions are dishonourable, quite the reverse. If we had more MP’s of similar integrity, with committment to truth and exposure of lies, deceit and double standards, the voting public might trust government more. I was more surprised by Robin Cook’s backstabbing of CS, I had thought he was on the right side as well, but it appears not.

    Comment by Peter George — 2 Mar 2004 on 1:01 pm | Link
  21. Peter George;

    While I agree with your comments about Robin Cook, for whom I similarly lost a lot of respect this weekend, I have to disagree with your analysis of Clare Short as regards integrity and honour. Although I am glad she has opened her mouth, one has to wonder at her motives and her timing. If she is as principled as you believe, I would have thought that her principles would have been apparent in the run up to war. Instead, rather than resigning as she threatened she backed down and supported the government – and for what? For the promise of a slice of the action afterwards.

    No, although I do agree that it would be a wonderful world if politicians existed who had the qualities you listed, I would have to disagree that Clare Short is one of these people.

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 2 Mar 2004 on 1:26 pm | Link
  22. HH mentioned chemtrails so here is my site:

    www. stopchemtrails. bravehost. com

    (no spaces though)

    Comment by Paul T — 26 Feb 2007 on 3:21 pm | Link

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Post a public comment

(You must give an email address, but it will not be displayed to the public.)
(You may give your website, and it will be displayed to the public.)


This is not a way of contacting the Prime Minister. If you would like to contact the Prime Minister, go to the 10 Downing Street official site.

Privacy note: Shortly after posting, your name and comment will be displayed on the site. This means that people searching for your name on the Internet will be able to find and read your comment.

Downing Street Says...

The unofficial site which lets you comment on the UK Prime Minister's official briefings. About us...


March 2004
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
« Feb   Apr »

Supported by


Disruptive Proactivity

Recent Briefings



Syndicate (RSS/XML)



Contact Sam Smith.

This site is powered by WordPress. Theme by Jag Singh